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  • Alan Bray

Friends Till After The End


As described last time, Mavis Gallant’s Forain begins with the funeral of Adam Tremski, an eastern European author whose writing Blaise Forain has published. And it’s clear right away that Forain has organized the event. We can assume that this story has some meaning, that it is planned, not random.

One thing that stands out, that may provide a clue to the story’s meaning, is the quantity of oppositions that can be found. In the first sentence, we have snow opposed to rain—an opposition not terribly significant in itself but that foreshadows what is to come.

The big opposition as I see it, is between Forain and Adam Tremski. Tremski is shown to have been a rather self-centered person, perhaps irresponsible, who invites caretaking by others, certainly his wife, Barbara, but most definitely Forain.

“A new desire to sort out the past, put its artifacts in order, had occupied Tremski’s conversation on his wedding day. His friends had soon grown bored, although his wife seemed to be listening. Tremski, married at last, was off on an oblique course, preaching the need for discipline and a thought-out future. It didn’t last.”

“He (Forain) felt paternal, wise, rid of mistaken ideals. He would become Tremski’s guide and father. He thought, (of Barbara), this is the sort of woman I should have married—although most probably he never should have married anyone.”

Forain enables Tremski’s eccentric behavior. He loans him money, he publishes his obscure writing, during the publishing process, he makes excuses for Tremski’s delays and difficulties. Most significantly, he assists in the funeral arrangements for, first Barbara, and then for Tremski himself. Perhaps, it could be said that the two characters need each other, that they have a symbiotic relationship of “user/enabler.”

Prrhps.

There are other oppositions, enough to make one conclude their appearance is intentional.

Cartesian order/Slavic frenzy – this is mentioned early on and is related to Forain enabling Tremski’s chaos.

Exile/Native – we discussed this one last time. It is central in the story, the idea of non-Parisians living in Paris and struggling to hold onto their culture.

Jewish/Christian – Tremski was Jewish, Forain is not. This distinction is related to the exile/native one, and there is considerable blurring of these boundaries—Tremski is Jewish, yet his funeral is in a Catholic church.

Daughter/absent daughter – Tremski has a stepdaughter, Halina; Forain has a daughter he doesn’t see who is being raised by his ex-wife. His daughter is absent, just as Halina’s biological father is absent (dead).

Life/Death – And this leads us to the following opposition: Tremski is absent in the present of the story although very present through Forain’s recollections. Forain is present throughout.

It’s of note that, although Tremski and Forain have many opposite characteristics, the end of the story involves Forain being shown to act like Tremski. In a scene involving a cab ride, Forain acts in an unconventional way, breaking the rules of hailing a cab and taking advantage of the driver—an emigrant, “probably Portuguese”—by stiffing him on the fare.”Forain could not decide what to do about the tip, whether to give the man something extra…In the end, he made a Tremski-like gesture, waving aside change that must have amounted to 35% of the fare…It was not until after the man had driven away that Forain saw he had not included the tip in the total sum. No Tremski flourish was ever likely to carry a reward. That was another lesson of the day.”

So, after Forain loses Tremski, on the way from the funeral, he makes an attempt at behaving like his old friend. The narrator states it was a lesson learned—maybe by Forain, we don’t know.

Then, at the very end—a year later—Forain is publishing one of Tremski’s novels posthumously. The last chapter had been left unfinished, and Forain finishes it, “knitted up from fragments he had left trailing.” In effect, he creates two final chapters and decides to publish both. “The new girl, (a secretary) gifted in languages, compared the two versions and said he (Tremski) would have approved, and when Forain showed a moment of doubt and hesitation she was able to remind him how, in the long run, Tremski had never known what he wanted.”

Thus, their relationship is brought back to its original dynamic of Forain helping Tremski.

Is the story about Forain or Tremski?

Both, I think but it is all about blurring boundaries and grieving the loss of a (sometimes bad) friend.

Very well, best beloved, Next week, we’ll examine a new story, Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

Till then.

#Forain #MavisGallant #AlanBray